Listen to Your Life

If there is anything better than a walk in the quiet woods on a warm spring morning, the scent of apple blossoms in the air, and listening to The Samples on my headphones, I do not know what that would be.

I haven’t listened to The Samples for a while – but since about 1991 they have never been far from me. In the mountains of Montana, I fell in love for the first time, and “Feel Us Shaking” was part of the soundtrack of that summer. When I was in West Africa, “Little Silver Ring” and “Everytime” played constantly – as I went running, as I journaled, as I daydreamed. The semester I studied in China during seminary I listened to their live album as I walked from the seminary up on the hill down to the city below. Something about their songs has always filled me full with the perfect amount of longing and hope at the same time.

Today, I was stopped dead in the middle of my walk when “Here and Somewhere Else” by the Samples was playing. It was partly the song itself, but also how it slammed me back in time to when I was listening to that song the most.

I traveled for a couple years with a band. During those two years, I started dating a fellow who I met along the way and we began a long-distance relationship as I kept traveling. I saw him whenever we were in the area where he lived, but mostly I was on the road. He was funny, sweet, and cute. I loved him. Sort of.

Also during that time, I began to spend more time with one of the guys in the band. It started very innocently – talking for hours about music and life. He had a girlfriend, I had a boyfriend. I began to realize over time that I was falling for him, but I never dreamed he would be interested in me.  I kept writing my long letters to my boyfriend back home and telling myself I was happy.

Until the night the boy in the band kissed me…and the truth of what I really felt came spilling out and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I never wanted him to stop kissing me. I closed my eyes and I didn’t care if I ever saw my boyfriend again. I felt like a terrible person, but sometimes there is just no going back when you realize what you truly want.

Oh, I tried. See, the boy in the band didn’t want a relationship with me. I realized that even as he was kissing me – so after what amounted to a weekend of making out with the boy in the band, I tried to go back to “normal” and force myself back into contentment with my boyfriend.  I told myself it would be better once we were living in the same city. I told myself that my boyfriend was cute and funny and sweet and what more do I want? But my heart was off somewhere else – nowhere near my boyfriend. I could feel it in my bones. I didn’t want it to be true, but it was. I went for long walks asking myself “why why why!?” Why couldn’t I just be happy with the cute, funny, sweet boyfriend anymore?   The only answer that came to me was the unsettling truth that if I had to choose between the two years I had spent in a real relationship with my boyfriend and that one weekend of kissing the boy in the band, I would take the weekend. No question.

But I never did break up with that boyfriend. I was sure that it wouldn’t be smart to do that. He was sweet and funny and cute, remember? What more did I want? It was silly, it was foolish to want more.

But I did want more.

In retrospect, while I couldn’t bring myself to break up with him, my behavior seemed to show I was trying to get him to break up with me. I told him about making out with the boy in the band. I got super drunk at his brother’s wedding. I moped around depressed and crying – morose about being off the road and away from my band. Within two months of my moving back to the city where he lived, he broke up with me.

And I was sad…but mostly indignant. I remember thinking, “You are breaking up with me? I was never even sure I wanted to be with you and you have the nerve to break up with me? I just spent the last many months trying to talk myself into staying with you, reminding myself over and over that you are sweet and funny and cute and telling myself to ignore the voice in my head telling me that it isn’t enough to just think someone is sweet and funny and cute…and now YOU are breaking up with ME?”

But thank God he did, because I could have spent who knows how long continuing to try to convince myself it was right, it was fine, it was a good enough relationship – even though deep in my heart, I knew I would trade every second with him for the few moments of real passion and head-over-heels joy I felt with that long-lost boy in the band.

I’ve been thinking about how often we settle. In some ways, my Christian upbringing is at the core of it. I was taught to not be too big for my britches, to be thankful for what I’ve got, to look for the good in everything.  I knew my boyfriend was a good person, but what I couldn’t admit was that he wasn’t good for me.

It takes real strength to figure that stuff out. It can be so hard to let go of what is good and hold out for what is great, to believe we deserve the things that really bring us joy and light us up inside.  And it can feel positively scandalous to see this quest as a holy task, but it is! Because it would have been terrible for me to end up with that boyfriend for the long run – he is a great guy and he deserved to be with someone who was thrilled about him all the time, not someone who was spending her life talking herself into being with him.

For months, I ignored the voice in my heart telling me the relationship wasn’t right, that I had to let him go. I treated that still, small voice in my heart like she didn’t really know what she was talking about, what she wanted.

I’ve learned over time, over many years, that when I don’t listen to that voice in my heart, I forsake my deepest self. I forsake what is truest and most holy within me if I don’t pay attention to what my own life is trying to tell me. I spent decades listening first to the advice of others, the best practices of professionals, tradition, mentors, but a while ago I made an important promise – a promise to myself that for the rest of the years I have left, I will listen to me and my heart and wisdom first. I will listen to the way the Holy Spirit is singing in my own life first. I won’t treat myself and the Spirit’s motion as if they don’t matter, or as though they are merely some lesser voices to be crammed in the crevices of bigger, more scheduled, more sensible plans.

No, my Spirit-filled self first.  She matters to me.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Frederick Buechner




Little Silver Ring

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The music box stopped working.  It no longer makes a sound.

My mom did not have a lot of fancy things.  She and my dad lived very simply – partly out of necessity since Dad couldn’t work for most of his adult life due to his physical and emotional disabilities, but also because of a fierce thriftiness they both held.  If they could make something keep working, keep serving its’ purpose, no matter how bad it looked or how many times it had to be taped together to keep functioning, they kept using it.

Among the things I found in mom’s house were piles of notebooks in which were recorded every purchase, bill paid, and offering to the church, in other words – every single expenditure they had made – over the last fifty-two years.  And because mom and dad also didn’t believe in throwing things away, I also found my Grandmother’s notebooks where she had kept track of all of her purchases as well.

Every penny mattered.  They didn’t say things like “it’s just twenty bucks, why not get it?” – they said things like, “waste not, want not.”

There were times I felt my dad took this to the extreme – like when the window in my upstairs bedroom (which had a beautiful view of the hills and woods in the distance) broke and rather than get a new window, he just asked my brother to nail a board over it – first stuffing the window frame with insulation so that it could now keep the cold air out more efficiently.  The fact that my room was now a dark tomb with no natural light was not a consideration.

Or there was the car we had when my brother and I were small – one had to put a screwdriver somewhere in the engine in order to get it started.  Rather than fix whatever was causing this, mom and dad just dealt with it and drove it that way for years.

For a while, dad deemed water services too expensive and so for a long time we used the outhouse out back and filled jugs of water at my grandmother’s house in town to use for drinking and bathing.

I suspect I don’t really understand how tight finances were for my parents.  When dad was forced to retire from ministry due to his health, he received a small disability pension each month but it was very minimal.  It was small enough that we still qualified to receive government cheese and rice, and food stamps.  Mom couldn’t work because dad wasn’t well enough to take care of us kids, plus he needed her to care for him as well.

So we “made do.”

There’s so much of this I admire.  I imagine I would have all my student loans paid off by now if I managed my money and “made do” half as well as my parents did.  As it is, I lean toward the frivolous more often than I should.  Particularly with my children – I like to buy them things.  I think it shocked my mom when she came to stay with us how much stuff we bought for the kids.  I remember admitting to her, “They are spoiled.”  She did not deny it, she said simply, “Yes.  But they are cute.”

For however little material possessions mom wanted or needed during her life, it became even more extremely this way the last year of her life.  When she came to live with us, I ached to be able to ease sadness that she was carrying.  Since I didn’t know what else to do – I brought her little “treats” – things that she would normally have enjoyed – some nice soap or a pretty cup, some fresh stationery or even a tall, cold bottle of diet coke.  She politely thanked me and brought them into her room where she would place them carefully in her bedside drawer or closet.  She did not need them or want them or even barely consider them for longer than it took to store them away.

Sometimes I think she was just getting ready for what was coming next.  Her whole life she had needed so little but where she was going, there was nothing she would need.  I think all she really wanted was to go home, be with dad again, be done with her body that she had to stick needles in and medicate every day.

After mom died, my brother and I went through her house in Minnesota and took care of what was left behind. There was nothing of great value but much that was precious, of course.  One of the things I brought home was mom’s jewelry box.  It is pink with pink velveteen on the inside.  I remember as a child how I loved to open that pretty box and look at her treasures.  When I opened it after her death it still contained many of the same things I had remembered she kept in there: some earrings she used to wear when she was right out of college and worked in Minneapolis, her high school Letter, a locket with a picture of dad, and dad’s wedding ring.

I took dad’s ring and slipped it onto my thumb.  It had been just a few days before that I had put on mom’s wedding ring.  When she was in ICU they had to take it off her since her fingers were swelling so badly.  I had put it into a plastic bag along with the only other piece of jewelry she wore, a black hills silver ring I had given her some years before.  I told her I would hold onto them until she got out of the hospital.  The night she died, while I was still in the hospital room trying to gather the strength to stand and leave and go home, I kept looking at her hands and seeing the indent on her ring finger. I remembered the rings still in my purse.  I took them out and slipped both those rings on my finger.  I had planned to just bring them back to Minnesota and have them buried with her – but I couldn’t.  Her thin gold wedding band had been on her hand her whole life.  She had held us as babies while wearing that ring.  She had cared for my father wearing that ring.  While I felt it rightfully belonged buried on her finger, I couldn’t part with it.  I knew I somehow needed it to help me get through the rest of my life without her.

It makes no sense that a thin gold band should help me feel closer to my mom who cared so little for material things.  But maybe it does.  This ring was one thing that did matter to her.  It stood for a promise she made that mattered to her more than any other in her life.  I look at it and I can see her hands still.  Truthfully, I would give away every single thing I have before I would get rid of this ring.  It rests on my finger right below my own wedding band.  Like a reminder from my mom that promises and persistence matter.  She’s still teaching me, even now.

So anyway, the jewelry box – it had a music box in it.  Once upon a time it clinked out a little tune – that was part of its’ magic.  It was quite a few months after mom’s death and I had brought the jewelry box with me to Texas and placed it on my dresser when I noticed the small key on the back. I turned the key to see if it still worked and there was only silence.  I wish I remembered what song it used to play.

There is so much I wish I still remembered. Bit by bit, mom and dad, our life together when I was growing up – all of it is slowly fading. While there are things I will never forget, there’s just as much that is lost.

Is it lost, or is it just making room for what is new? Is it all perspective? It must be, because for some people, visiting a graveyard is sad and morose while for another person it is peaceful and thought-provoking. For one person, reading ancient scripture feels meaningless while for another, it is full of truth and wisdom.

So I am shifting my perspective from this: “I lost my mother six years ago today,” to something different:

Six years ago, I began to carry on the legacy of goodness and kindness my mother gave to me.

Six years ago, I released her into God’s care.

Six years ago, I said “see you later” to my mom. She’s waiting for me just beyond the veil.

Six years ago, I became the oldest female in my family line. For however premature it felt, I trust that whatever my grandmothers and my mother gave to me in wisdom and knowledge was enough to carry me through. It was enough for me to pass on to my children.

Six years ago, the world shifted in an uncomfortable way, but not an impossible way. I’m okay. I’ve weathered this grief and let it become a seed that will hopefully now grow new life.

silver ring


Little Silver Ring

The Samples

Growing old, wathing silver turn to gold
Snowing cold, why aren’t you here for me to hold?
In a dream somewhere finding my way home
Then a change of scene
The rest took place in Ancient Rome

Was I a king?
Pretty ladies all around
I gave one a ring
So satisfied in who we found

Didn’t make much sense
But we loved to do our thing
Behind her fence
And behind her little silve ring

That turned to gold That turned to gold

Growing old, watching silver turn to gold
Snowing cold, why aren’t you here for me to hold

Didn’t make much sense
But we loved to do our thing
Behind her fence
And behind her little silver ring

That turned to gold
That turned to gold